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Hard-Hitting Baseball Analysis

Analyzing the New York Yankees’ Bullpen Trio

The strength of the 2015 New York Yankees was undoubtedly the back end of their bullpen. By any statistical or qualitative measure, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances were among the best five relievers in baseball last season. Having both on the same team was downright unfair, like having two queens on a chess board.

Apparently not satisfied with this vaunted duo, GM Brian Cashman acquired Reds flamethrower Aroldis Chapman this offseason, much to the chagrin of New York’s AL East rivals. Chapman, like Betances and Miller, is objectively one of the five best – if not the best – relievers in baseball. He is also, without a doubt, the most terrifying pitcher in baseball, throwing fastballs over 100 MPH with unparalleled regularity.

New York Yankees' Bullpen Trio

Photo: Keith Allison

But why would the Yankees do this? Wouldn’t their trade chips have been better deployed to fortify team weaknesses, rather than buttress an already clear strength? I’ve seen many writers make this argument, noting that Chapman’s arrival is akin to a student with a 98% grade focusing on bumping it up to 100%. The question is: does it really move the needle enough to matter?

This is a specious argument that ignores a surprising reality of the 2015 Yankees. Despite the dominance of Betances and Miller, the Yankees’ bullpen somehow finished just 15th in the majors last year in ERA, 12th in FIP, and tied for 15th in WHIP. While my analysis would be amiss without mentioning that the Yankees’ bullpen led the league in K/9, these numbers demonstrate that the bullpen as a whole was merely good – not great.

The addition of Chapman is even more important considering the losses of reliable swingman Adam Warren and 7th-inning man, Justin Wilson. Without Chapman, the Yankees would be relying on lefty Chasen Shreve to hold down the 7th inning, a dicey proposition in light of his 2nd half collapse last year.

Moreover, the installment of Chapman as the Yankees closer enables manager Joe Girardi to utilize Betances and Miller with more freedom, rather than rigidly confining them to inning-specific roles. This will allow the southpaw Miller to face more lefties while Betances can unleash his devastating fastball-slider combo against right-handed hitters. As an auxiliary benefit, Girardi can now afford to sufficiently rest Betances, who led all relief pitchers with 84 innings pitched last season.

With the bullpen trio locking down the last three innings, the Yankees are able to take substantial pressure off the shoulders of their shaky starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda are huge injury risks. C.C. Sabathia hasn’t been an effective pitcher since 2012. Luis Severino is ultra-talented, but still unproven. And Nathan Eovaldi – despite being one of baseball’s hardest throwers – has never been able to translate his velocity into strikeouts. None of these pitchers can be counted on to throw 200 innings, which I’m sure even the Yankees would privately concede.

But, do you know who can be counted on for 200 innings?1 Betances, Miller, and Chapman. If you combine the trio’s statistics from 2015, you get the equivalent of Clayton Kershaw on steroids: 212 innings pitched, 347 strikeouts, 1.70 ERA, 1.01 WHIP. As David Price’s lavish contract demonstrates, the price of an ace has skyrocketed. But New York may have cheated the system, finding its ace under the guise of a three-headed monster.

With a bullpen that projects to be so dominant, mediocrity in the starting rotation might be good enough for New York. Look at the Royals, for example. Although Kansas City’s starters finished 9th in the Majors in ERA last season, that statistic belies their true performance. Their starters pitched the 7th fewest innings in baseball, and had the added benefit of playing in front of baseball’s best defense.

While the Yankees are nowhere near the 2015 Royals in terms of defense, base-running, and overall high-energy play, they can mimic the Royals’ championship blueprint regarding the pitching staff.

New York appears to be over-reliant on aging sluggers Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran.  If these three can stay healthy and sustain their performances from last season – an admittedly huge ‘if’ –  the Yankees will again boast one of baseball’s best line-ups.  Coupling this offense with a Royal-esque pitching staff could lead to a playoff berth.

And if they can sneak into the playoffs, you better have a lead against them after 6. Because if you don’t, say hello to baseball’s best bullpen trio in recent memory: Betances-Miller-Chapman.


1: It should be noted that Chapman is suspended for the first 30 games this season, making it unlikely the bullpen trio will sustain last year’s innings and strikeout numbers.

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